MARCH 22, 2020 – DEAR BLOG READERS: I’M GOING TO TURN THIS CORONA BLUES BLOG POST INTO A SINGLE, LONG, COVID-19 SERIES OF POSTS – STARTING WITH MY FIRST ONE, ON MARCH 13, THAT MIXED MY EARLY CORONAVIRUS AWARENESS WITH HOW IT WAS IMPACTING MATAMOROS – AND MOVING CHRONOLOGICALLY AFTER THAT POST, TO SUBSEQUENT COVID THOUGHTS, SOME OF THEM ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MY FACEBOOK PAGE. MY WIFE, JILL, THOUGHT THEY SHOULDN’T GET LOST ON THE ENDLESS STREAM OF FACEBOOK, THAT I SHOULD DEDICATE A BLOG TO THEM. SO THIS IS LIKE A BLOG WITHIN A BLOG. I’LL CONTINUE BLOGGING MATAMOROS POSTS AS THEY OCCUR TO ME ON THE REST OF THIS SITE – BUT FOR NOW I THINK MOST OF MY WRITING ENERGY WILL GO INTO ADDING TO THIS LONG SEQUENCE OF CORONA BLUES, UPDATED, BY DATE, AS YOU READ DOWN. STARTING WITH…
March 13, 2020 – Yup, Friday the 13th
I just cancelled a book signing/reading/song performance I was set to do at a local bookstore next week. It was a hard choice, I was looking forward to it, but the doctor in me felt compelled to do the right thing medically – or even if not medically necessary at this moment in time yet, to nudge the public consciousness in the right direction. Because as sure as I’m writing this, things are gonna be a lot worse in a few weeks. So I’ll also stop going to my weekly group song circle, stop going to the gym at the YMCA. The guy who runs our monthly poker group has put that on pause. I look around, I live in the most beautiful place on earth, it feels like, ocean, mountains, tacos, sushi, music, movies, and everyone is walking around smiling and unblemished. But it feels like that moment in the movie just before everything goes south.
The beautiful surfer in Jaws, just before the shark fin breaks the water; the humdrum city, kids playing stickball, just before the martians land; the happy couple in bed, while the audience can see the serial killer jimmying open the back door.
But I think it’s making me more depressed than anxious. I feel kind of fatigued all the time now, I have no energy – which I associate with the feeling of powerlessness. Powerless against the virus, powerless to get the wheels of government turning faster to combat it. I’m doing all kinds of social distancing, but find I don’t like it. I like people, and connecting with them. And I feel a little like an outlier, because most of the folks I know are kind of shrugging it all off, or viewing it from a distance. So that’s a detaching feeling too, and kind of cognitive dissonance. Yet all the grocery shelves have been wiped clean, so I know people are scared, too. It’s a weird disconnect.
I’m a 72 year old guy with a pre-existing condition, so I’m the guy this virus likes to munch on. It can sniff me out like a bloodhound. Which, in turn, makes me paranoid – about what to touch, where to put my hands, how close to stand to someone in public. And that makes me think about dying.
I’m not ready for that. I still haven’t seen my first baby grandson, who was born a couple weeks ago. I haven’t finished the two novels and three screenplays on my desk. I haven’t finished midwifing Matamoros out into the world. I haven’t explained all the intricacies of our finances to my wife, Jill – who to call, where the really important papers are. And what about my literary legacy? All the finished and unfinished works in my computer, how to access them, which ones are important to save. And important to whom? Does anybody care about the shit I’ve written after I’m gone? Should I care?
I still have boxes and boxes of my mother’s artwork and my father’s writings in a storage shed. I never look at them. When I die, my kids will just toss all of it, as incomprehensible garbage. So who am I kidding about my stuff? Not Ozymandias, that’s for sure.
It’s a little bit paralyzing. As if I’ve spent my life creating one giant memento mori. Like what, or who, am I doing this for? Reminds me of a verse in a song I wrote on my last album, The Meaning of Life, a song titled Time To Go:
There’s one more year in the rearview mirror/Damn if I know what I’m doin’ here/Well I wanna make one thing perfectly clear/I just don’t know what it is, my dear.
So yeah, this life is a puzzlement. But then I get a grip, and I do start to remember what some of this is about, what and who I’m doing it all for. To begin with, it’s for me.
It’s what I get out of writing words and music and creating something that moves me. I can’t not write. But then, as the creation evolves, it helps me touch the future – like maybe, down the line, something I’ve written will move somebody else too. And that reminds me of an old John Stewart song – great folksinger, with the Kingston Trio for a while – called “Some Lonesome Picker.” About every artist’s and storyteller’s and songwriter’s wish, in a way. The chorus is:
Oh I’m believing, believing
Believing, that even when I’m gone
Maybe some lonesome picker will
Find some healing in this song
I love that thought. That long after I’m dead and buried, one day some lonely, down on their luck guy or gal will stumble on one of my songs, or stories – and it will call to them, and touch their soul for just those few minutes. So it’s about the love in my heart for those who come after me – me reaching across time to touch a kindred spirit. It’s different from hope, but somehow related.
But if even that lovely thought is not enough to keep me writing, I’m reminded of an old Yiddish proverb: When you’re hungry, sing; when you’re hurt, laugh.
And to that I would add, When you’re scared, tell a story.
So that’s what this blog is, I guess, working out being scared of this coronavirus sneakin’ ’round my back door.
And telling stories is what I’ll keep doing. At least, that’s my plan. But then, you know the other famous Yiddish proverb:
Man plans and God laughs
That’s okay. I’m hurting a little these days. I can laugh too. And my hope is all of you can laugh, or sing, or listen to someone sing, and that will help stop your own hurting, or hunger, or fear of the maelstrom, viral or otherwise.
And here’s my reflection on nearing the end of my life, whether it’s now or 20 years from now – Track 7 on https://jameskahn.hearnow.com/the-meaning-of-life
MARCH 20, 2020
Scary times. Never felt this way before. I imagine it was like this in 1918, when one of my great uncles died in the Spanish flu pandemic. And we’ve seen this movie many times in the past, from Outbreak to Contagion to 12 Monkeys – but that always felt more like a, well, like a movie. Sort of a cautionary tale, but I don’t think I could wrap my mind around what the experience of it is. If we follow the Italian model, I shudder to think of the consequences, not just in deaths but in terms of social upheaval.
I feel cautiously lucky at the moment – I look outside and it’s beautiful, flowers are blooming, I can see the ocean; I have enough food for a month, enough books for a year and enough cable forever. If we all behave, maybe we can avert the worst of it. I hope so. But then I see people scoffing or minimizing – whether for political, anti-science, or macho reasons – and it hollows my heart. We can only combat this if we act together. Feral strays can bring us all down. So I implore you: even if you think you’re invincible, or this is a deep state or liberal conspiracy, or even just an alarmist overreaction – stay to yourself for the benefit of your older friends, or parents. Our lives depend on you.
MARCH 21, 2020
Day 5 of self-quarantine? There’s a strangely dissociated way that I’ve stopped, or at least am no longer focused on, my anger at the powers that be for doing so little so late. Mostly I’m turned inward now. I’m depressed at my life’s dislocation, and trying to proactively confront that. No more gym at the Y, so I’m starting to make myself walk in the mornings and even run though I hate running; and then come home and do a little stretching, some weights. It’s hard for me without the structure of the gym, but this is my new life. I’ve been grocery shopping once a week, I think I’ll start having it delivered now. I watch more TV, but if I do that too long for too many days I feel bloated and slothful. With the rains stopped I’m back out in the garden a little. I try to write, but my motivation feels sapped. I’m immune deficient, so higher risk, so probably more jittery than some; and I miss my social contacts.
But here’s some good news: when I go out walking I see more people on the street walking than ever before. Moms pushing strollers, autonomous unit couples walking side by side – though everyone keeps the new normal 6 feet from strangers. People are sending more jokes online. I’m back in the garden again. Finding time to get recipes and make nice meals. Connecting more with Jill – though sadly it frequently devolves into talk of fears, latest headlines, trading data, worry about our far-flung kids. But underneath it is a feeling that we’re all in this together, and even if some of us aren’t buying it, at some basic level we’re all for each other. Keep being for each other. Please.
MARCH 22, 2020
So here’s an interesting paradox that occurred to me today. First I started thinking what I usually do, that part of my anxiety stems from the 24/7 media hair-on-fire reporting. Of course that’s what the media always does, it’s basically an entertainment medium dedicated to selling soap – and it knows that excitement and fear and anger will always generate more attention than segments about what’s going right, feel-good stories, pure informational stories. News shows go where the ratings are. So the media always talks loudly about murders, fires, insane presidents, evil immigrants, bad schools… and now the Virus.
But here’s the interesting part – if the media weren’t in a constant state of alarm about COVID, then we wouldn’t be as likely to be sheltering-in-place – or, as Jill likes to say, depressed-in-place – and if we weren’t social distancing so strictly, then the epidemic would in fact get worse. So I think this is the first instance in which hair-on-fire media is actually helping mitigate a national disaster, by jacking up our fear level to the trigger point that motivates us in large numbers to self-quarantine. I know there are still hold-outs, who say this is all nothing but media hype – but maybe media hype is what will save the day.
MARCH 24, 2020
I haven’t worked an ER in almost 30 years. I’ve worked neighborhood clinics, urgent care centers, county jail, house call services, all kinds of things – but I got kind of burned out working ER after doing it for 20 years. But seeing all these pictures now of the ERs in New York, the chaos, sacrifice, camaraderie, fear, determination, exhaustion – it brings it all back. Not that I ever had to face what these brave providers are going through now. In my day we faced massive onslaughts of patients, long hours, sometimes epidemics, sometimes gangfights, sometimes plane crashes – but nothing like the personal danger the current docs and nurses are putting themselves in just to be there on the front lines. It awes me – to see both the self-sacrificing heights of the human spirit, and then watching some of the venal politicians on TV, the depths. For me, the ER was a place of broken souls, where everyone needed mending, including the caregivers. Here’s a song I wrote about it once, that kind of captured my feelings.